One was a marketing genius who inspired housewives to earn their own money through Tupperware parties; the other was the shrewd inventor of the self-wringing mop and space-saving clothes hangers.
Brownie Wise and Joy Mangano were both trailblazing businesswomen who reached the top of their professions through hard work, talent and charisma.
Their unusual life stories are being brought to the big screen in separate films, already being billed as the battle of the domestic goddesses, with two of the most respected actresses in Hollywood playing the roles.
Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lawrence will be competing to see who can best portray these real-life heroines. Lawrence is in Boston filming Joy, a comedy-drama that charts the meteoric career of Mangano, a single mother of three, who has patented more than 100 inventions, including her famous mop.
Already there have been reports of tension between the Hunger Games actress and the film’s director, David O Russell, over the way the inspiring story should be told. “He was screaming at her, she was screaming at him,” an eyewitness told the New York Post, saying that the air rang with profanities. Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein, who showed up unannounced, was also reportedly asked to leave because his presence was a distraction.
The 24-year-old Oscar winner went on Facebook last week to deny the reports. “This movie is going great and I’m having a blast making it!” she wrote.
Bullock’s film about Tupperware is still in development and sources at her film company say the 50-year-old actress, also an Oscar winner, wants to get her portrayal right and does not want to rush the project. This is Bullock’s first role since Gravity, which earned her a record-breaking $70m.
Bullock’s film is based on Tupperware Unsealed, written by Bob Kealing. He relates how Earl Tupper developed the food storage containers, applying for a patent in 1947.
Tupper was at a loss how to market the products and discovered Wise, a divorcee and mother, who had a prodigious talent for selling and was a “dazzling, intelligent and outgoing woman”.
She set up parties for stay-at-home mothers in the postwar baby boom era, showing them how to “burp” the lid to force air out of the colourful bowls and create a vacuum. Sales took off, as women had previously had to resort to putting shower caps over dishes to prevent food from spoiling.
Throughout the 1950s, thousands of women became Tupperware hostesses, rewarded with incentives that ranged from sets of steak knives to Cadillacs and mink coats. In 1954, Wise was the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week magazine, when the company’s estimated sales were $100m.
Tupper came to resent his employee’s success; in 1957 Wise was fired from the multimillion-dollar company she had helped to build. She held no company stock and was given a payoff of a year’s salary of $30,000. She tried and failed to start a cosmetics company, dabbled in property and had a pottery studio. She died in 1992 at the age of 79.
“She was one of the most important businesswomen of the 20th century, the prototype for all these Facebook and Google women who are leaning in,” says Kealing. “I’m glad she will finally get the recognition she deserves.”
Mangano’s rise to riches story is equally uplifting. The former waitress used her own savings to develop a mop that could be wrung out without the user getting their hands wet. In 1990 she made 100 mops and sold them to shops in Long Island. She sold a further 1,000 mops to the QVC shopping channel, on condition that she would take them back if they did not sell. The mops moved slowly but when Mangano went on air to sell her product herself, she sold 18,000 mops in 20 minutes. Today, they still sell by the million.
Blonde and bubbly Mangano also invented Huggable Hangers, which save space in wardrobes, and she broke a selling record on the Home Shopping Network in 2010 by selling 180,000 of her Forever Fragrant air fresheners in a single day.
She sold her company Ingenious Designs to HSN and now works there as an executive.
Her daughter, Christie Miranne, told the Observer that her mother was “excited and honoured” to be portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence. “She’s worked really hard all her life. We’re all looking forward to seeing the film. It’s going to be quite an experience,” she said.
Some people have expressed scepticism that the women’s life stories, which include their complicated love lives, are strong enough to draw audiences but others believe they will be hits with cinemagoers weary of action and fantasy films.
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